United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 14, 16
K. DIMKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 14, 16. The parties consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion, ECF No. 14, and
grants Defendant's Motion, ECF No. 16.
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
district court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is
limited; the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed
“only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or
is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698
F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial
evidence” means “relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. at 1159 (quotation and
citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence
equates to “more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less
than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation and
citation omitted). In determining whether the standard has
been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire
record as a whole rather than searching for supporting
evidence in isolation. Id.
reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001). If the evidence in the record “is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, [the court] must
uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by
inferences reasonably drawn from the record.”
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir.
2012). Further, a district court “may not reverse an
ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless.” Id. An error is harmless
“where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's]
ultimate nondisability determination.” Id. at
1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing
the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of
establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v.
Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).
claimant must satisfy two conditions to be considered
“disabled” within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. First, the claimant must be “unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Second,
the claimant's impairment must be “of such severity
that he is not only unable to do his previous work[, ] but
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which
exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. §
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis
to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step one, the
Commissioner considers the claimant's work activity. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged
in “substantial gainful activity, ” the
Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
analysis proceeds to step two. At this step, the Commissioner
considers the severity of the claimant's impairment. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant suffers
from “any impairment or combination of impairments
which significantly limits [his or her] physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, ” the analysis
proceeds to step three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the
claimant's impairment does not satisfy this severity
threshold, however, the Commissioner must find that the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
three, the Commissioner compares the claimant's
impairment to severe impairments recognized by the
Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude a person from
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment is as severe or more
severe than one of the enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner must find the claimant disabled and award
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
severity of the claimant's impairment does not meet or
exceed the severity of the enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner must pause to assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity.” Residual
functional capacity (RFC), defined generally as the
claimant's ability to perform physical and mental work
activities on a sustained basis despite his or her
limitations, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1), is relevant to
both the fourth and fifth steps of the analysis.
four, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing
work that he or she has performed in the past (past relevant
work). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant
is capable of performing past relevant work, the Commissioner
must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(f). If the claimant is incapable of performing such
work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
five, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing
other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the
Commissioner must also consider vocational factors such as
the claimant's age, education, and past work experience.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant is
capable of adjusting to other work, the Commissioner must
find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of adjusting
to other work, the analysis concludes with a finding that the
claimant is disabled and is therefore entitled to benefits.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four
above. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th
Cir. 1999). If the analysis proceeds to step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to establish that (1) the claimant
is capable of performing other work; and (2) such work
“exists in significant numbers in the national
economy.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Beltran
v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).
March 11, 2014, Plaintiff applied for Title II disability
insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of
February 15, 2007. Tr. 199-200. The application was denied
initially, Tr. 141-43, and on reconsideration, Tr. 146-47.
Plaintiff appeared at hearings before an administrative law
judge (ALJ) on August 25, 2015, Tr. 73-97, and on November 5,
2015, Tr. 98-124. On December 23, 2015, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 54-72.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not engage in substantial
gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset
date of February 15, 2007 through her date last insured of
September 30, 2012. Tr. 59. At step two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bilateral
carpal tunnel syndrome, status post bilateral carpal tunnel
releases in 2008 and 2009, and degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine. Tr. 59. At step three, the ALJ found
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a
listed impairment. Tr. 60. The ALJ then concluded that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with the
[Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; she can perform frequent, not constant, fine and
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing past
relevant work as an office manager and a hotel clerk. Tr. 65.
Although the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past
relevant work, the ALJ continued to step five and determined
that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, RFC, and testimony from a vocational expert,
there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as
furniture rental consultant and counter clerk. Tr. 66. The
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, from February 15, 2007,
the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2012, the date
last insured. Tr. 66.
23, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review, Tr. 41-45,
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision for purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C.
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying her disability income benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff raises the following
issues for this Court's review:
1. Whether the ALJ fulfilled her duty to fully and fairly
develop the record;
2. Whether the ALJ properly assessed Listing 1.02B at step
3. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion
4. Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's
symptom claims; and
5. Whether the ALJ properly considered lay witness